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County considers phasing out all short-term rentals

Public meeting to be held March 6

In the fight against illegal short-term rentals, the Maui County Planning Department is considering something other than tougher fines and customized software — phasing them out altogether.

The department will hold a public information meeting on the issue at 3 p.m. March 6 in the Kalana Pakui conference room at 250 S. High St. in Wailuku. Planning Director Michele McLean said that no bill or rule change is being proposed; the department is just trying to get community feedback.

McLean said the idea was partly triggered by the Maui County Council’s decision earlier this month to set a short-term rental permit cap of zero on Molokai. Council Member Riki Hokama, whose residency district is Lanai, also has proposed a bill that would establish a moratorium on transient accommodations permits for his island.

“The council’s action on Molokai was some of what prompted it, and also there were a few reasons,” McLean said. “One is that these have contributed to higher property values, which makes the cost of living here more expensive for everybody else.”

McLean said the original intent of the short-term rental home ordinance that was passed in 2012 was “to get all of the operations into compliance, but there’s still a lot of illegals out there, so it hasn’t succeeded in what its original objective was.”

She added that permits that go before planning commissions often get shut down by neighbors, who would rather have long-term residents than visitors coming and going.

If the county were to phase out short-term rentals countywide, it could potentially take a few years, as permits would likely stay valid until they expire. Bed-and-breakfasts still would be allowed, though the county could consider modifying what a B&B is so that more operations would be eligible for a permit.

“The idea being that communities don’t mind B&Bs so much because there is a long-term presence there,” McLean said. “Right now that has to be the owner-proprietor, but that could be expanded somewhat. Maybe a tenant could run the B&B so the owner wouldn’t have to run it there themselves, or if the owner lives next door, just broadening those opportunities a little bit.”

In December, higher fines for illegal rentals went into effect — $20,000 initially and $10,000 every day after. And in recent years, the county has contracted a company, LODGINGRevs, to help root out illegal rentals.

When asked if eliminating these rentals altogether would encourage more illegal operations, McLean said “that’s certainly possible that people who were absolutely determined to do short-term rentals may do it anyway.” But, the increased fines now create a much bigger financial risk, she said.

“No matter what, we still have to keep enforcing against illegal ones,” McLean pointed out. “It remains to be seen if these operators would choose to operate illegally if their permits are phased out at some point.”

While the March 6 meeting is not a formal proceeding with three-minute public testimonies, McLean said that people can make statements as well as ask questions.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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